Narach Philosophy

THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION: THE PROBLEM OF ACTION (PART-1)


We can accept the meaning of words in their natural form only if it is the very best; but it should not be derived from some detached or casual remark, except in very special cases. It should not be obtained by breaking up the unity of idea of the text or by mixing up words; and the best result is obtained by dividing words into parts as in the case of Brhat and Rathantara-Saman hymns of the Vedas. But we should be careful to see that the whole text is connected together and has an unbroken unity of thought.

When we see two meanings of a word, we must make up our minds as to which of the two we should accept; and we may find that the one we do has little connection with the ordinary meaning of the word. In this way we shall find that all human faculties are capable of performing action; but it is the special privilege of the intellect to direct it; and as the highest place belongs to the intellect. It is, however possible to say that all of them are equal with reference to the soul, because they are equally dependent on it; nevertheless the function of the one, say the mind, cannot be performed by the others, the intellect, the senses or their objects.

Pleasure or enjoyment has power to impel us to action; and so we see that purpose and action are closely intertwined. There may be a doubt as to whether an action like speech etc., which may be a natural or reflex action, is impelled by purpose or not; and in such cases we should accept the opinion of trustworthy persons. The simplest way of finding out the character of action is to observe the behavior of a person in a state of distress or agitation.

It is necessary to refer to all kinds of actions in order to understand their connection with purpose or aim; and this would include sacrifice, which is an exalted kind of action, and free from any element of special interest or aim.

How to interpret the text: When we get a number of words in the text, we should accept their meaning in their natural form only if it is suitable, because the text is without any defect. Indeed, the meaning we get should be the best; but it should not be obtained from some detached or casual remark, though it may be so in certain cases, just as we may get the idea of sacrifice from a reference to a branch of the sacred Fig-tree. The Fig-tree has always been regarded as sacred, as being symbolic of Prakrti or nature itself; and, as nature is governed by a law which may be conceived in terms of sacrifice, the Fig-tree or a branch of it may be regarded as a symbol of that sacrifice. The reference may not be a prominent one; but the idea of sacrifice arises from the pre-eminence of it, as in the case of the world kapala. Kapala means "the alms-bowl of a beggar", and so symbolizes a life of renunciation, which may be regarded as a form of sacrifice. A reference to a single word like kapala can give us this idea; and so also a reference to a branch of the sacred Fig-tree. But these are exceptions to the rule.

We cannot say that it is possible to get the same idea by means of something else, because it is necessary to maintain unity of thought, whereas there would be an absence of proper relation in the case of casual expressions; and so it would not be possible to work the meaning into a harmonious whole. Indeed, if we mix up words, we fail to understand the real idea of the text; and the correct meaning can be obtained by dividing words into regular parts, as in the case of Brhat and Rathantara-Saman hymns. Even so the whole text should be connected together, and there should be no impediments in the way, - because that is the test of our mastery of the text. In the two Samans, - Brhat and Rathantara - the result of this method can be extended from end to end. Each part of the whole is connected with and dependent on the other; but in order to understand this it is necessary to divide words into their parts.

The word Saman has a number of meanings in Sanskrit. Here it refers to a particular kind of sacred text or verse called a Saman, which is intended to be chanted or sung. There are four kinds of verses mentioned in the Rig Veda - Rich, Yajus, Chhandas and Saman; and Brhat and Rathantara are two Saman verses which are intended to be chanted. This Sutra tells us that the words in these verses need to be divided into parts to enable us to understand their meaning; and the text Sutra says that the principle involved in this method of interpretation can be extended in these verses from one end to the other.

Need of selection: We get two meanings of a word in this way, and must make up our mind as to which of the two we should have; but this should not be so merely because of the absence of sense in the other meaning. The principle of interpretation is that when we reject one meaning and accept another, it should not be merely because the first meaning does not make sense. It is equally necessary that the other meaning should make good sense. Indeed, when we get our meanings by dividing words into regular parts, we shall find that they have no connection with those that are ordinarily taught or heard. For instance, if we interpret the word Pani as mere hand, - as a minor limb of the body - we shall not get any essential idea of the text. The hand is an instrument of action; and it is necessary to understand the word Pani to refer to action, when we shall get a proper meaning of the text.

Function of human faculties: All human faculties are capable of performing meritorious deeds, because there is no distinction between them in this respect; and this can be proved. But such deeds are the special privilege of the intellect, because the other two (the mind and the senses) cannot direct action. (The word for intellect in the text is Brahmana which, as we have seen, refers to the intellect, as the Kshatriya to the ahankara and the mind, and Vaisya to the senses).

There is no statement in the sacred books to the effect that they can; and all that has been laid down refers to the character of the soul, which is also described as "a master of the house" without any derogation of the name, or conflict with the manner in which action takes place. Indeed, we can see the proof of the strength of all the rest by reason of the character of the soul; as all these faculties derive their strength from their association with the soul, for they cannot act without it. And this will enable us to understand that the intellect is necessarily the best. (When we understand how all these faculties function in association with the soul, we shall realize that the intellect is the highest of all, for its special characteristic is decision, without which no action can take place. The word in the txt is Brahmana, which, as has already been explained, refers to the intellect). Or we might say that all of them are equal if we refer them to their original state (or dependence on the soul). Since all the faculties of man depend for their function on the soul, and cannot act without it, it may be argued that they are alike. But even this is not tenable. It is a rule that when the mind performs its own function, the same cannot be done by the intellect or the senses.

Pleasure and purpose in action: The power of pleasure is so great that even those who are not intelligent (or those who wish to renounce action) have to engage in action; and we can easily see this in the case of one who seeks pleasure. The word in the text is Anagni, meaning "without fire" or without intelligence. There is a reference in the Bhagavad Gita to one "who is without fire and without action"; and the idea apparently is that it is only a foolish person who thinks of giving up action during life. Both the renderings have been given here. All this arises from the power of predominant thought (which impels a man to action); and in the case of intelligent persons (or those who do not wish to renounce action), action arises from the innate condition of their desire. This is so because all are impelled to action by means of purpose or aim; and we shall see for ourselves that purpose and action are closely intertwined.

Doubtful cases: They may, however, be a doubt as to whether an action like speech etc. is impelled by purpose or not; and in such cases we may take it as we like. Certain actions, like speech, can be deliberate as well as natural or reflex; and we can take them as we like according to the circumstances of each case. But we should follow the opinion of trustworthy persons, - there they agree - whenever there is a conflict of opinion. But, whenever there is a difference of opinion in regard to the idea of the sacred books, we should, even in such cases, accept the conclusion of trustworthy persons who agree.

A suggestion: One of the simplest ways of finding out the character of such action is to observe the dominant thought of a person in a state of danger or distress; for we can understand the real character of a man's actions when he is in a state of agitation. As acts of sacrifice are free from agitation, we have to examine other kinds of actions to understand this.

We have, for instance, the idea of a real (or excellent) sacrifice. It is not correct to say that acts of sacrifice are altogether different from other kinds of actions; nor do they have a different relation to those regarded as subsidiary. But the idea of sacrifice is necessarily an exalted one; and so the impelling force that makes for it is not the same as in other cases. Indeed, we might say that, as sacrifice has this character, the idea of purpose or special interest should altogether be eliminated from it.